Octavo Dia

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Can you Give It to Them?

I was reminded, in a roundabout way, of Churchill's famous dictum, that the "truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." What brought this to mind was an article by the BBC (whose link I had lost and isn't important anyway) about a father who raped his infant daughter.

They gave him life in prison.

He had filmed it and kept it on his computer.

They should have killed him.

Life is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of death.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Support Small Business! Create Jobs! Waste Resources?

Everyone wants to support small businesses because, as our glorious leaders ceaselessly remind us, small businesses create most of our jobs.

However, those small businesses, which produce about 1/2 of our GDP, employ about 2/3 of our workers (pdf). In terms of GDP, therefore, those employed by medium and large businesses are twice as productive as those employed by small businesses. Productivity is what it's all about; it's where new wealth comes from.

There are a variety of things which could cause this--the nature of the industries, lack of capital, local knowledge, etc.--but by advocating small business as an unmitigatedly good thing, you are ignoring the possibility that the reason small business employs so much labor is because it's using it inefficiently. Small businesses may be getting suboptimal returns because they're not big enough to provide economies of scale, specialization, experienced management, and the other benefits of large business. By promoting small business at the expense of big business (any promotion gives a competitive edge), you could be wasting resources, particularly the human variety.

Very rarely is soaking up massive quantities of a resource considered a good thing, but when the drumbeat of "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" is all you hear, you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review: Shadow Warriors

Timmerman, Kenneth R. Shadow Warriors: The Untold Story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

This book is a conspiracy theorist book, with all the trappings that entails, but it does demonstrate, as I like to quote, "Few arguments last long when the truth is on one side only." I learned something from this book: the trouble with coups is that, in order to launch one, you have to be part of the regime you topple. You can't have a "clean" coup.

In theory, little of this was new. Controlling the bureaucracy has been a theoretical problem in political science since pretty much the creation of a bureaucracy.

In practice, however, I'm going to take this book under advisement. I don't consider this book a reputable source, so I'll keep it in mind until I receive corroboration from another (preferably reputable) source. The endorsement from Limbaugh on the copy I have detracts from its credibility.

If all of this is true, however, I will change my opinion of the Bush administration. The Bush administration wasn't necessarily incompetent when it comes to war planning; it was incompetent in navigating a Byzantine political system. I'm not sure which is worse.


Book Review: The American Way of Death

Milford, Jessica. The American Way of Death. Greenwich, CT; Fawcett Crest, 1963.

I know she was writing just three years after Thomas C. Shelling's The Strategy of Conflict, but if she had read his work, she wouldn't have written hers, because it would be reduced to a single sentence: For most Americans, a funeral is a single shot game, with all the risks inherent thereto.

Don't bother reading the book. You now know what's in it.


Monday, March 15, 2010

How I became a climate change denier.

I wasn't always a denier. I believed that a small "c" conservative approach was to avoid doing the irreversible. However, a series of incidents changed my mind. I didn't bother digging up the links. If you're curious, just Google it.

First, the East Anglia E-mails. Spin it how you like, but on the face they demonstrate politics, not science.

Second, the U.N. report on the Himalayan glaciers being based on a single article in an Indian magazine, that quoted a single scientist, and they transposed the date from 2350 to 2035? That is, at best, extremely shoddy workmanship.

Third, I was reading in Foreign Affairs about black carbon, which causes 25-50% of global warming. It is short-lived, so an change we do today would have an effect tomorrow, unlike carbon dioxide, which is a decades-long project. The real kicker is we can cheaply deal with it with technology we already have without needing to reorganize our society. If those in power were serious about global warming, and not just using it as a political hobby horse, this is where the attention would go.

Fourth, the systematic deletion of temperature sensors from high latitude and altitude. Crippling our data sets in a biased way? Gee, that's not suspicious.

Fifth, the editing of hundreds of Wikipedia articles to remove references to the Medieval Warm Period.

You can explain away any one of these, but the five of them forms a trend in my mind. It'll take a heck of a lot to win back my confidence.

I really should just give them the candy.


Created by OnePlusYou -

The way the math works in a no-holds-barred fight with equal participants (two sides fighting with the same generation of MiGs, for example), you take the square of the numbers involved, subtract the lesser from the greater, and find the square root. Thus a 3 to 2 fight is really 9 to 4. The square root of the remainder, 2.24, shows that after taking down the other guys, the trio will be battered but standing.

So even if I'm 50 times the man the five-year-olds are, I'd still only take one out before they took me down. That fits my experience of tussling with small people and trying to move with eight of them climbing on you.

On the other hand, not all 23 could get to me at the same time, but I think if they launched a human wave it really wouldn't matter.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Green barcodes

Here's my simple plan: all packaging comes with a green, 2D barcode that contains the recycling information. It would make recyclables easy to sort by machine, you could put a lot more detail (additives and whatnot), and, by mandating that everything have it, you would encourage companies to use recyclable materials.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Economics of Babies

I could be at work right now. I could be partaking in sweet, sweet overtime.

I am not.

Instead, I am typing with one hand while rocking a sweet, sweet baby girl with the other.

And that's what led me to today's post.

There are economies of scale with babies. The first baby, who is now nearly two and half, was extremely costly. Most of the cost, however, is opportunity cost. He's costing easily $30,000 a year in forgone wages, and only a few thousand in actual, out-of-pocket expenses.

The second baby, however, is far, far cheaper. The out-of-pocket expenses currently make up the lion's share of her economic impact. I'll be facing an opportunity cost for the next few weeks in that I'll be unable to work overtime, but that's nothing compared to the costs of losing a full time job.

I suppose the state of my finances is irrelevant to just about everyone, but it suggests that China's one-child policy (or for that matter, the unofficial one-child policy in Italy), is the worst economic situation. The total economic costs would be far reduced if one couple could have two children, and the next couple could have none. Fewer people would buy into that than the one-child policy, even though it would most likely reduce the gender imbalance.

Which reminds me, here's some counter-intuitive math for you. In a hypothetical country, you cease reproducing if you have a boy. So if the boy is first, you have one child. If the boy is second, you have two, and so on. If you keep having girls, you can have as many children as you want, but as soon as you have a boy, you have to stop.

So, what will the gender balance look like? Will this country be overwhelmed with girls? Even if one mom has eight girls and another has only one boy? Nope. It's because the genders are roughly balanced at birth. The first birth leaves you with a 50/50 balanced. Only the ones who have girls go on, but the second birth is once again 50/50. A smaller group continues for the third time, and it's 50/50 again. Even though it is seemingly biased in favor of girls, it produces nothing of the sort.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Peak Oil and Climate Change

Did you know that climate change is bringing peak oil nearer?

Energy is already a volatile industry, so risky investments are already shunned. The climate change debate only adds a healthy dose of uncertainty to the mix: Will this operation be shut down for climate concerns? Will a new green technology supplant it? Will it be unprofitable with new taxes? Will it be exploited at all with new caps?

So what do the energy companies do with this uncertainty? They don't invest in new energy supplies--and that's what brings peak oil closer because new supply stalls while demand rises.

I would say the best thing to do in this case is to bite the bullet and do something. Suck it up, add a carbon tax, and let the energy companies make prudent decisions about which resources to develop.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Personality Test

Noumenon referred me to a personality test at learnmyself.com. His results are here. It turns out we're very different people: